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It's a sort of emotional vampire. It changes shape to provoke a negative emotion - in Lister's case, it took him to the very limit of his terror, then sucked out his fear.
~ Kryten about the Polymorph and its ability to drain negative emotions.

The Polymorph, alongside its domesticated variant Emohawk, are recurring antagonists from Red Dwarf. They appear in the episodes Polymorph, Emohawk: Polymorph II, Can of Worms and in the novel Better Than Life.

They are shape-shifting organisms that can change into anything they desire, and are capable of draining humans and other beings of their negative emotions. In the television series they were originally designed for military purposes to confuse and terrify the enemy, but they mutated into something so horrible its creators could no longer control it.

The novel Better Than Life presents a different version of the creatures' origin. After Earth was voted to be made the galaxy's landfill, the surviving genetically engineered life forms were left to die among its garbage. However, some of them survived and the present-day Polymorphs evolved from them.

Frances Barber, Kalli Greenwood, and Dominique Moore all portrayed different personas adopted by Polymorphs on the show; being a seductive woman named Genny, Rimmer's mother, and a female felis sapien named Ankita respectively.

Television Polymorphs

Polymorph's attack

The Polymorph attacks Lister

First Polymorph

In the episode Polymorph, the containment pod with the Polymorph on the board lands on the spaceship Red Dwarf. It travels through the ship and turns into many forms, including a teddy bear, yellow lamp and red sock. It suddenly jumps into one room as baseball which Dave Lister picks up and rests it on the table. The Polymorph turns into a kebab and attacks Lister when he tries to eat it. It then turns into boxer shorts Lister puts on. However, the shorts shrink while Lister tries to remove them. The Polymorph then turns into Lister's worst fears: a snake and an "8 foot tall armour plated alien killing machine", terrifying him so much it is able to drain his of his fear.

While the rest of the crew looks for the Polymorph, it turns into a woman to seduce the Cat and successfully drain him of his vanity. Arnold Rimmer and Kryten then find him and Rimmer tells Kryton it is his fault as he let the Cat run off alone. However, it is revealed Rimmer is actually the Polymorph that drains Kryten of his guilt.

Red Dwarf - Polymorph Intro

Red Dwarf - Polymorph Intro

The Introduction to the Polymorph in its titular episode

Later, the Polymorph turns into Rimmer's mother and makes out with Lister, driving Rimmer angry, so it can drain him of his anger. The crew go into the cargo bay to hunt down the Polymorph once and forever. They accidentally release the shots fired earlier and destroy it with a quick duck. After the Polymorph is dead, their personalities are restored.

Second Polymorph

The second Polymorph lands on Red Dwarf soon after the first one, also in the episode Polymorph. In the remastered episode, it is so dumb it hides in Lister's clean underpants drawer and dies of old age.

Emohawk

Emohawk

The Emohawk

The Emohawks are variants of Polymorphs that look like birds (hawks) in their natural forms. They are domesticated and spayed at birth by Kinitawowis, a race of bulky humanoid GELFs. As well as draining emotions, they are also able to drain specific aspects of an individual's personality and change their victims' physical appearance.

After the crew cons the chief of the Kinitawowis in the episode Emohawk: Polymorph II, he sends his pet Emohawk after them. It is able to get on board by changing into Lister's hat. Firstly, it turns into a can of baked beans and drains the Cat of his cool, turning him into ugly dork, Duane Dibbley. Its next victim is Rimmer, who it tricks him by disguising itself as a non-responsive microphone. The Emohawk drains him of his bitterness, turning him into the heroic Ace Rimmer. Rimmer decides to take out the Emohawk by sucking it into space, which would kill himself and Duane, as he thinks it is too risky to capture the creature. Luckily, Lister and Kryten stop him and eventually capture the Emohawk with a sprayer full of liquid dilithium which freezes it.

Ankita

In Can of Worms, the crew encounter a ship piloted by a Mercenoid heading straight towards a sun. They discover it has a prisoner on board and Lister decides they should investigate with the possibility the prisoner could be a human. After defeating the Mercenoid, they free the prisoner who turns out to be a felis sapien named Ankita (in reality a disguised female Polymorph) who takes a liking to Cat.

Back on the ship, Kryten calls Lister and Rimmer to the science room where, after reading the Mercenoid ship's black box, informs them Ankita is really a female Polymorph and the Mercenoid was trying to kill it by flying it into the sun. Kryten shows them a documentary he discovered detailing the female Polymorph and its ability to impregnate their unsuspecting hosts. They rush to find Cat, who unfortunately has already been impregnated with it and is now pregnate with its spawn.

They attempt to remove the Polymorph spawn manually, however they transform into tumors and threaten to kill Cat unless they are birthed properly. The Cat proceeds to give birth to them as they shoot "out of every orifice simultaneously" while they take the form of household objects in an attempt to blend in. The crew capture them and prepare to eject them into deep space as they take the forms of cute and small animals. Cat requests he eject them himself to which the crew agree, however, the Cat hides them due to being under the spawns' oxytocin hormone influence. The hormone is released by the Polymorph spawn to ensure the host protects them until they've matured to full strength. Rimmer suggests they turn off all the ship's heat except in the diesel decks and remove Lister of all his emotions, then Cat will move the spawn there and Lister will be undetected by the Polymorph spawn. The crew venture into the diesel decks where Kryten, using the Psi-scan, discovers the Polymorph spawn have matured faster than expected and have completely drained Cat of all his emotions; however, with each Polymorph they kill each of Cat's emotions will return to him. Lister kills two Polymorphs attempting to disguise themselves as Cat, but soon they become surrounded by copies of themselves. Unsure of who is who, they all venture to the science room to X-ray each other, however Cat is able to successfully identify his spawn and kills them all while they are transporting in the elevator.

Novel Polymorph

Better Than Life

Another Polymorph appears in the novel Better Than Life and acts similar to the first Polymorph from the episode of the same name. They were one of the GELFs that were left to die among garbage on Earth, now known as Garbale World. They evolved to become the dominant species on the planet, and after Lister is marooned on Garbage World and befriends a pack of large cockroaches, he becomes familiar with them. When the crew arrive on Garbage World to find Lister, the weak Polymorph changes itself into him, so an unaware Kryten takes the creature back to Red Dwarf. Luckily, Rimmer finds the real Lister meanwhile and Talkie Toaster successfully disables the Polymorph from harming Kryten. The crew attempt to throw it put into deep space, but it manages to return to Red Dwarf and drains the crew's emotions exactly the same way like the first Polymorph, except for Rimmer. In Rimmer's case the Polymorph sneaks into the ship's Hologram Simulation Suite and accesses his memories, forcing Rimmer to relieve traumatic events, triggering his anger and allowing the Polymorph to feast upon it. The Polymorph then falls asleep in the cargo bay, but when the crew attack it, the creature responds their attack more violently than the television Polymorph and almost kill them with its tentacles before it is killed by the shots the crew fired earlier as in the episode.

Smegazine Polymorphs

Polymorphs were regularly featured enemies in comics of the Red Dwarf Smegazine. Its look was often based off its original appearance in the episode Polymorph.

Home of Lost Caues (Parts One & Two)

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Set during Series VI, when the crew were in search of Red Dwarf, they encounter what appears to be Red Dwarf out of nowhere. As they enter they discover it inhabited by the entirety of the original crew who, after a misunderstanding, attempt to arrest the crew who flee. While the crew take refuge in the elevator, the elevator automatically takes them down to the Engineering Section where a seemingly-resurrected Kristine Kochanski introduces them to a Polymorph.

It is revealed this is the second Polymorph from the end of Polymorph, who aware of the first Polymorph's defeat, bid her time by duplicating the structure of the ship to hide from Holly. Shortly afterward, the Polymorph came across an entire archive of the crew in the moment of the radiation leak wiping them out in the ship's computer and fed off their final moments to keep her alive. After two years, the Polymorph detached from Red Dwarf itself, able to form into the entire ship and recreate its inhabitants by generating power from 20,000 GELF captives, whom the Polymorph kept captive to generate energy.

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The crew escape and are chased down by the Polymorph Red Dwarf, however the recreated crew of the Red Dwarf included a Dave Lister and Arnold Rimmer. There, the events of The End played out and the Polymorph generated Rimmer failed to properly secure the drive plate, killing the Polymorph.

Trivia

  • One of the first Polymorph's forms is similar to the Xenomorph from the movie Alien.
  • The first Polymorph actually couldn't be able to drain Rimmer of his emotions, as he is a hologram and the creature couldn't touch him. Also, Rimmer's emotions are resided on the disc Holly has got, not in his hologram's version. This was noticed by the time the second novel Better Than Life was written, where the Polymorph drains Rimmer's emotions from the Hologram Simulation Suite.
  • The word Emohawk is made from words "emotion" and "hawk".
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